Early newspapers in Britain and America

Britain. The British press made its debut — an inauspicious one — in the early 17th century. News coverage was restricted to foreign affairs for a long time, and even the first so-called English newspaper was a translation by Nathaniel Butter, a printer, of a Dutch coranto called "Corante, or news from Italy, Germany, Hungary, Spain and France" dated Sept. 24, 1621. Together with two London stationers, Nicholas Bourne and Thomas Archer, Butter published a stream of corantos and avisos, including a numbered and dated series of "Weekly News", be§ in 1622. But a number of difficulties confronted a prospective publisher: a license to publish was needed; regular censorship of reporting was in operation from the earliest days; and foreign news no longer appeared because of a Star Chamber decree (in force from 1632 to 1638) completely banning the publication of accounts of the Thirty Year's War.

Between the abolition of the Star Chamber in 1641 and the establishment of the Commonwealth in 1649 publishers enjoyed a short spell of freedom from strict official control. Publication of domestic news began to appear more regularly, shedding the original book form. News and headlines increasingly replaced the old title page. The Civil Wars (1642—1651) acted as a stimulus to reporters and publishers, and 300 distinct news publications were bought out between 1640 and 1660, although many of these were only occasional reports from the battle front. The Parliamentarian victory brought strict control of the press from 1649 to 1658, and the restored monarchy was even more absolute, with the press being restricted to just two official papers. The Revolution of 1688 produced a return to more permissive publishing laws and the first provincial presses were set up starting with the "Worcester Post Man" (1690) and in, Scotland, the first "Edinburg Gazette" (1699), although the British press was to remain principally a national one, centered on Fleet Street in London. Appearing briefly was Lloyd's News (1696), issuing from Edward marine insurance. The subsequent "Lloyd's List and Shipping Gazette" (from 1734), with its combination of general and shipping news, exemplified both the importance of the City of London's financial activities to the newspapers and the importance of a reliable and regular financial press to business. In the early years of the 18th century the British newspaper was approaching its first stage of maturity. After 1691 improvements in the postal system made daily publication practical, the first attempts at doing so being the singlesheet "Daily Courant" (1702—35), which consisted largely of extracts from foreign corantos. Henry Muddiman had gained eminence as the "journalist" who edited the "London Gazette" (from 1666). John Milton had edited the "Mercurius Politicus" under Oliver Cromwell, and Sir Richard Steel, and Joseph Addison "The Spectator". "The Spectator" and "The Tatler" are commemorated in the modern magazines of the same name. Sales of popular "Spectator" sometimes ran as high as 3000 copies, and already this circulation level was enough to attract advertising. An excise duty on advertisements was introduced by the Stamp Act (1712), along with other so-called taxes on knowledge aimed at curbing the nascent power of the press.

North America. In N. America, publication of newspapers was deterred during colonial times by the long arm of the British law, but after independence the US could boast one of the world's least restricted sets of laws on publication. A first attempt at publishing, albeit aborting was made in Boston by a radical from London, Benjamin Harris, 1690. His "Public Occurrences, Both Foreign and Domestic", intended as a monthly series, was immediately stopped by the Governor of Massachusetts. It was clear that free speech and a nonofficial press were not to be tolerated in the colonies. Boston was also the site of the first official newspaper, the "Boston Newsletter" (1704), with which the authorities replaced the proclamations, pamphlets, and newsletters previously used to convey news from London. In 1719, the original title was replaced by the "Boston Gazette" printed by Benjamin Franklin's elder brother, James, who soon produced the first independent American newspaper, the "New-England Courant of 1721". William Bradford founded the first New-York City newspaper, the "New-York Gazette", in 1725, and his son Andrew was the first newspaper proprietor in Philadelphia. Further expansion of the colonies created 37 different titles by the outbreak of the War of Independence. The first Amendment to the US Constitution specifically guaranteed "the freedom of speech of the press". The right to criticize the government had been established as early as 1735, however, "New-York Weekly Journal", was acquitted of criminal libel. After the temporary Alien and Sedition Acts (1798—1801), which included censorship clauses, were repeated, newspapers in the US returned to polemics and public campaigns and set off on a course that was to help shape the modern character of popular newspaper worldwide.